I know that I am not a woman but that does not disqualify me to give career tips specifically targeting women! I will base my tips on a talk that was given some seven years ago to Shell Women Professionals Networks in Aberdeen, Scotland, by a successful woman who was at the time my mentor, Cara Antoine. She was a very well read senior global IT figure in Shell at the time. I will add other key relevant information that I have gathered from a web of information sources and anecdotal encounters. It is well known that while women compete very well with men in schools, colleges and universities, only a small percentage of them make it to the top ranks of career ladders. This is the question we will address today.
Both my father and mother are teachers by profession, now both retired. My father rose through the ranks to deputy headmaster of a primary school and then headmaster. Later on, when my mother was being nominated for head teacher, she declined the promotion. Not once but several times! She only accepted it when my brother and I almost forced her to do so!
In the 10 years or so that she was head teacher, she sustained best performance for her school across the zone and district, at least in terms of the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) results. She did far better than most male head teachers performed. But she almost never became one – if it were not for my brother and I forcing her. How many women out there do we have that never got the promotion that would have given them the chance to shine and show their true potential and talent?
This represents one of the key points presented by Cara Antoine. She said that research had showed that most women professionals fail to get bigger jobs because they do not even attempt to—they rule themselves out too early. Typically, if eligibility criteria for a job has say 10 elements, a man who only has even four or seven of them with the remaining three to six as gaps, will attempt and present himself for consideration. A woman who may have as high as eight or nine will typically rule herself out without even attempting just because of the missing one or two elements. In the end, the male professional who has four to seven elements may end up getting the job. And this happens many times.
This is a big lesson for women professionals that want to advance their career. Do not be very hard on yourself. For the missing elements, think hard to find ways of cleverly covering them. When I coach or mentor professionals, I find the same thing. Men tend to be very generous with their strengths while women only present strengths that are very big and obvious.
The second big lesson that Cara Antoine shared was about the need for women to make men hear them. Apparently, research has shown that naturally, men do not easily recognise women in especially meetings dominated by men. If the few women do not speak in the meeting, that makes it worse. Men will go on discussing and talking as if there are no women in the room. Speak out— especially at the beginning of the meeting to ‘register’ your presence. Even if you just say: “I like today’s agenda.”
The third one is about emotions. We all know that there is a marked difference between men and women in terms of sensitivity to and the handling of emotions. There is no right way but they are just different. It is important that as a woman professional, you work to find an optimum way of managing your emotions so that they do not become a hindrance to your career growth. The matter of fact is that as you rise through the ranks, it gets ‘hotter’ up there. Your strength in managing the emotions will make you stand the heat and rise higher and faster than the men!
Good luck to all women professionals as you master the nuts and bolts of accelerating your career to the top as a female professional!